The Link routes are unique in Auckland in that they’re some of the few cases where AT try to put any effort into creating and marketing a public transport brand. But while the brand has strong recognition, the experience leaves a lot to be desired, most noticeably the Inner and Outer links which due to their loopy nature, are unreliable with buses often end up bunched together and having long pauses at places like Victoria Park.

So it’s relief to hear that Auckland Transport are finally looking to fix the Outer Link, possibly one of the most complained about bus routes in Auckland. It’s not that the route is all bad, but the Inner and Outer Links were conceived at a time when we didn’t have a connected network, when you had to pay a separate fare to change between buses and in for some buses you needed a completely different card too. One of their reasons for existence was to provide cross-town connections to what was at the time was a very city centre focused bus network. But since the advent of the new bus network the Outer Link in particular stands out as trying to do too many things but as a result does none of them really well, especially its use as a cross-town service due to the diversion up to Valley Rd and Mt Eden with AT saying about the change

“This is the least used section of the Outer Link and it would mean we can improve reliability of the busiest sections of the routes … as these are subject to buses bunching and unreliable timings resulting in a poor customer experience,” AT spokesman Mark Hannan said.

When AT first consulted on the new network they did plan to break up the Outer Link with a route that went from Mt Albert to Onehunga via the city centre. A second route would then run from Point Chevalier to Glen Innes via St Lukes Rd/Balmoral Rd/Greenlane West, as can be seen in the map below.

The central new network as proposed in 2015

The Outer Link became probably the biggest disappointment of the new network when AT backed away from making any changes following a small but vocal campaign to save it with AT taking the view it was better to get the rest of the network in place and come back to the Outer Link later.

Last week, newly elected Waitemata Local Board member Graeme Gunthorp, who has also written about fixing the Inner Link, tweeted an image of the changes AT are proposing to make in a consultation due to start next week. The route is effectively split in two.

  • The Northern/Western part of the route is retained linking St Lukes to Newmarket via the city centre.
  • The 650 gets upgraded to the 65 frequent route

In addition there is a a new 640 route from Newmarket to Valley Rd via Mt Eden with a suggestion that it be extended to kingsland in the future.

I think in general this is a big improvement on the current Outer Link and by breaking the loop will help in making that service much more reliable and therefore more useful. However I do have a few additional thoughts about this.

  • Perhaps AT should go back to the original new network idea of linking this to the 30 route on Manukau Rd which would have the added benefit of reducing the number of buses on Symonds St. The one issue with this though is there is probably uneven demand on both sides of the route.
  • The most heavily used part of the 20 route is between Kingsland and Wynyard with much lighter use between Kingland and St Lukes. Instead the 20 could be linked to the 640 that could create an additional full crosstown route.
  • The biggest downside of the 65 going via Western Springs is it misses any connections to the Western Line and fixing that isn’t likely to be easy. One long-term option could be that we move the Baldwin Ave station. The station is currently right in the middle of a lot of pocket of housing but the western half of that catchment is also within easy walking distance of the Mt Albert station so perhaps shifting it about 350m east, so the eastern end of the station is connected to St Lukes Rd could be possible. It would have the added advantage of moving the station off the curve. Thinking about the catalyst for this, it could tied in with the need to:
    • Grade separate the Asquith Ave and Rossgrove Tce level crossings
    • Lengthen the platforms to allow for 9-car trains – a 9-car platform would extend to about Asquith Ave.

    The biggest downside to this is it would still be very close to Morningside and while I would love if if were able to combine those stations into one for faster journeys for those coming from future out, I don’t think that’s likely and there’s a lot of development allowed around Morningside that we would want to serve.

Should we shift the Baldwin Ave station to connect to St Lukes Rd?
  • Given its more prominent status as a cross-town route, it would also be good if AT were to also look at how the 650 connects with Southern Line at Greenlane. Currently the closest bus stops are about 400m away.

It’s good to see AT finally looking to address the Outer Link but given it’s a route a lot of people are care about, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was some strong support to keep it as is.

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  1. Hooray! The Outer Link is such a terrible customer experience I won’t miss it at all. I assume this will mean no more stupid hold points along the route?

    Also it’ll be great for the 650 to become a frequent route. It opens up so many options for the isthmus bus routes to become a true network.

  2. A 65 with quarter of an hour frequency will be fantastic. This is a great improvement.

    There are two current problems with the 650 other than the low frequency. I wonder if AT could fix them at the same time?

    1/ The 650 detours to Ascot Hospital in theory, but the drivers often don’t, leaving people standing at the hospital stop.

    2/ The last 650 bus from GI to Selwyn Village on a weekday leaves at 4:15. After that, you need to change at Pt Chevalier, and if you’re a resident of Selwyn Village, you’d then have to walk an additional 600 to 790m (depending on which bus you change to). I see the proposed map still shows a skinny “less frequent” line for that last part of the route.

    In combination, I think these problems aren’t ideal for the residents at Selwyn Village who could use the bus to go to Ascot and Greenlane hospitals, and elsewhere.

    I don’t know if the first problem has been fixed yet – AT was showing no inclination to fix it last year but the user I know who was affected gave up on trying to use it.

    For the second problem, would the savings of having the buses terminate at Pt Chevalier shops after 5:30 really be worth putting users off using the bus due to the risk of not being able to get home? Maybe it really would, but if this is the case, should AT offer a programme at Selwyn Village to teach the residents and staff what the solutions are if they get dropped off at the shops.

    And what are those solutions? Where is the pedestrian crossing on the desire line the residents will have if they decide to shuffle across the road to find a taxi rather than take a bus they won’t be able to walk from? Where is the taxi stand going to be in the new streetscape?

    1. “1/ The 650 detours to Ascot Hospital in theory, but the drivers often don’t, …”
      Do you think that’s because in the other direction it doesn’t as the stop is across the road, drivers forget or are they trying to make up time & think no one catches it there much?

    2. Surely the solution is the door to door service of the subsidised ‘total mobility’ taxi service. I would think this is a more sustainable service offering for the less able residents of selwyn village. Direct frequent bus services from all retirement villages to the hospitals just doesn’t seem tenable for the expected passenger volumes.

  3. always winners and losers with these sorts of changes. one obvious one is that mt albert grammar students who live in the further reaches of their zone by mt eden will now potentially need a two change trip (or one with plenty of walking at least one end). much as the valley rd detour was mad, some kind of crosstown service connecting mt albert and mt eden villages, then onto newmarket still seems like a good idea to me.

    1. Is the area around Mt Eden seriously in zone for Mt Albert Grammar? You could hit Auckland Grammar with a good stone throw from there.

      It looks to me as though anyone who lives around Mt Eden could get to Mt Albert Grammar with one change using either the 27 and 65 service or the 321 and 65 service.

      1. yeah it is a bit weird but some of the streets just north east of the village are in MAGS zone. the 65 gets you close-ish to the school, but you’d have to walk through roy clements treeway which isn’t necessarily that salubrious….anyway not a big deal. overall the proposal looks pretty good, i just think there’s a case for a connection going across new north, sandringham, dominion, mt eden, that isn’t as far south as balmoral rd and not as far north as the train line. but no doubt AT has the data and maybe there’s not…!

        1. Ah, I see. I hadn’t realised that the school doesn’t really have much of a connection to St Lukes Road.

        2. We need more focus on those pedestrian connections.

          I think the benefits to the MAGS students overall will be good. Having the increased frequency of the 65 will be substantial. So will the Outer Link being able to stick to time, even if it only serves them now in one direction. AT, though, should be doing some major improvements to the pedestrian transfers between the 65 and the other routes. For Newmarket, I wonder how many students would use the train? (Matt’s suggested new station location seems to be a little closer, depending on how it connects to the street network.)

          On the other hand, Western Springs College students are huge winners. Currently, the Outer Link on Meola Rd after school (the students start getting to the stop between 3:15 and 3:25-ish) is very random, having already been held up by school traffic in Mt Albert. Having to wait 25 or more minutes for the bus due to the loop problems, and with way too many students to fit under the rain shelter, means it’s a pretty large and bedraggled group getting on sometimes.

          One of the problems is that the Mt Albert Grammar zone is skewed to the east of the school. So is the Western Springs College zone. The MoE should be creating a co-educational school at Auckland Girls Grammar, which is placed well for students living in the city centre. This would allow both MAGS and WSC to shrink their zones at the city end (and, as appropriate, extend it to the west.)

  4. I think if you wanted to move Baldwin Ave to St Lukes then maybe consolidating Morningside and Kingsland around Rossmay Terrace would be a good option. Acquire the row of villas and the Mobil station to give yourself some room for two commuter platforms and maybe some extra ones for game days. Connection to Eden Park using a bridge across Sandringham Road, have a lift/escalators to New North Road, and Morningside Drive via Altham Ave. Of course this is all assuming that Eden Park remains Auckland’s main stadium for the foreseeable future as it wouldn’t come cheap.

    1. I am going out on a limb here, but I suspect it will be far cheaper to rebuild Eden Park from the ground up as an indoor, soundproofed venue with an open street-facing transport concourse than it will be to build a medium-sized capacity stadium over/sunken in water down by the waterfront.

      1. I suspect you’re correct. Also, once the CRL is completed then Kingsland will only be ten minutes from town which is basically within the central city at that point.

  5. Fixing the Outer Link – great. Now AT should get on and look at the issues that the Inner Link has – pretty much the same (bunching, timing points en route, passenger frustration) as the Outer Link.

    I’ve watched the 866 (Newmarket to Albany) grow quite extraordinarily since the New Network was begun. From a handful of passengers off-peak, to 17-20 on my regular middle-of-the-day run outbound from K Road. And full loads at peak hours are not at all uncommon.

    The RPTP proposes the 866 will have extended hours of operation and enhanced frequency in future and become the NX3, providing an all-operating-hours frequent/”rapid” service from Newmarket to Ponsonby and the Northern Busway. With the rapid growth of patronage that I’ve observed, the time for that may be sooner, rather than later.

    The success of the 866/NX3 gives an opportunity to do something about the Inner Link. Just as a section is proposed to be cut out of the Outer Link, and the 650 enhanced to compensate, so too the Inner Link could be terminated at (say) Great North Road/Ponsonby Road, with an enhanced “frequent” NX3 carrying the traffic from Ponsonby to Newmarket. The only passengers that would be “lost” by this change are those travelling from College Hill/Victoria Park to Parnell and Newmarket – and for them the Outer Link would still be available. With the New Network, there has been a dramatic increase in bus traffic on Ponsonby Road, and some of it is really duplication. The money which paid for Inner Link capacity between Newmarket and Ponsonby could be reallocated to the NX3, going a long way toward ensuring that the outcome is at minimum additional cost.

    If you wait for a bus on Ponsonby Road right now, facing toward Newmarket, you can see many passengers already use the 866 to get to Newmarket, so there is already public consciousness that the two routes duplicate each other. Likewise, if you catch the 866 from Newmarket toward Albany, there is always a good handful of passengers who exit the bus long before it reaches the Harbour Bridge. As long as the NX3 can be given sufficient frequency and weekend services added (as AT is planning to do) then the Inner Link could easily be truncated without inconveniencing passengers at all.

    1. Isn’t it fascinating to watch ridership change as the network improves?

      These seem like logical suggestions. The only thing I’m wondering about is the situation in which Outer Link users are being left behind on Parnell Rd at evening rush hour because the buses are full. I’m not sure how to feed that problem into the solution.

    2. Yes interesting thanks. The Outer Link could have it’s frequency doubled say as a result of these official & also these other change ideas. Ridership should increase as a result of the improvement to bunching etc anyway so may need to be just with the AT proposal.

      These is a lot of Parnell Rd overlap with these two link services, but I guess we don’t want to get to pure with transfers making routes too short. You almost don’t need the InnerLink if you could always get on a North Shore etc or OuterLink bus instead.

    3. The 866 has become a victim of its success. In peak time the route was designed for commuters from the North Shore to get to work places at Auckland Hospital, Grafton and Newmarket with possibly a few in Ponsonby. It is now a local bus along Ponsonby Road as well, as mentioned above. At peak times there needs to be an express from Northern busway to Auckland hospital, Grafton and Newmarket, via Wellesly St offramp from SH16 east and Grafton Road. Return in the evening starting from hospital, to Grafton, Newmarket and SH1 from Gillies Avenue. Call it the 86X. The evening peak trip on the 866 can take 90 minutes to Albany which is a joke with no bus priority at Curran Street. During the day the 866 is ok.

      1. Sounds like with current bus priority (or lack of it) at peak you would be better off taking the InnerLink or train to downtown walk to Lower Albert St & getting a NX1 especially if you are starting in Newmarket?

  6. Why not close Baldwin and Morningside and move the station to the east side of St Lukes Rd. There are too many stations in this area.

    1. The terrain is a little more challenging on the east side but it would be ideal to have a station between New North and St Lukes. The other alternative would be to have the station directly underneath St Lukes to enable easy connections to crosstown buses.

  7. I can see that the the double-up at the end of Jervois Rd is still there, I’d really hope that AT fixes this and simply moves the stop 150m to the other side of that roundabout.

  8. I really hope this means the ridiculous 10min+ pauses at Victoria Park will go. A short journey from Three Lamps to town or uni should take 10/15mins, but ends up taking 30mins with having to sit on a bus for half that time. It’s ludicrous and I remember sitting being on an Outer Link pausing at Vic Park way back in 2014 and hearing passengers from overseas commenting that they couldn’t believe this was happening, it would never happen in their home countries. Five years later, my partner attempts the Outer Link to get to uni, and facing the same ridiculous wait at Vic Park he just got off and walked the rest of way. I won’t attempt the trip with my baby either as 15mins sitting on a stationary bus is not something he’ll tolerate. So there is no practical PT link for us to town!
    If it wasn’t for this stupid pause, the Outer Link would be a great quick service between Three Lamps and the city, and such a short journey should be an easy one for AT to provide.

    1. What’s even more frustrating than sitting for ten minutes on a bus at a bus station, is sitting for ten minutes on a bus that is supposed to be going somewhere. That can be the experience on the Outer or Inner link going down Parnell Rise at afternoon peak.

      1. Ugh yes that is annoying for sure…although Vic Park is meant to just be a stop on the route, it’s not a bus station…but they choose this spot to let drivers have a walk around and maybe swap over, rather than timing it so the swap-over is seamless.
        As a further note to my post, I called the AT line to complain, and the person on the phone told me that there is no pause at Vic Park, even though it had happened that very morning, so at that point I just threw up my hands.

        1. Oh that’s interesting. They have recently cut out some swap over duties at Vicsnoria Park, but do you think they have left it still as a ‘catch up to time’ stop? Of which there are many.

          This morning, the bus bunching was dire around 9:30 – 10, with 3 buses coming just before 10 on Meola Rd anticlockwise, a half hour after the last one which came at 9:24.

          What was interesting was that the bus I did take was then incredibly fast. And not through red light running or good luck at traffic lights. I’ll check my card data tomorrow, but from my watch I think I was on the bus for only 15 minutes from Meola Rd into Queen St. This is less than half the 33 minutes the timetable says.

          With bus priority measures, we should be able to have this travel time into town for every trip.

  9. I agree with the comment about poor transfer options between the 650 and Greenlane Station, despite that fact that the bus goes right past the station. Given the nature of Greenlane Rd and the roundabout though there don’t seem to be any options for significant improvement without spending large amounts of money. East-bound there could be a bus stop outside the Z station. West-bound is complicated by the Marewa Rd intersection and the lack of safe crossing points to enable passengers to get to the station. I wonder if access could be provided at track level under the road bridge, although it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of spare room under that bridge.

    1. I’ve tried to figure that one out too Tim, with the same success. It’s great that the public facilities at Greenlane (park, showgrounds etc.) will now be on a frequent bus route, but maximum benefit to the travelling public would seem to accrue if that bus actually delivered people to stations on the two railway lines it will cross – the Northwestern and the Southern. I suspect the walking required by the current proposal will put them out of reach for, for example, Greenlane hospital patients.

    2. The 650/65 biggest issue may be peak and event traffic passing through the Greenlane motorway interchange. Somehow need at least a bit more bus right of way through here.
      Agree the connectivity to the Greenlane station need a fix too.

  10. This change can’t come soon enough! That Victoria park pause is a killer – especially in summer when the busses turn off the aircon.

    AT should also consider better bus priority from Three Lamps through to Mid-Town. Busses often get stuck here in peak. Fixing this will drive higher patronage from the inner-west suburbs and set the service up well to connect to the CRL Aotea station for 2024.

  11. Speaking as a local resident with all the vested interest that entails, I think the opportunity to consolidate Baldwin Ave and Morningside has probably passed.
    There is a developing community and commercial centre around Morningside with potential for further growth, and Housing NZ is developing sites around Baldwin Ave, incl a proposed 52 unit three storey scheme nearly adjacent to the station.
    Much of the neighbourhood is zoned Mixed Housing Urban so there is scope for additional growth – and these consents likely make note of the station proximity to manage density and carparking. Baldwin Ave will also offer the best access to whatever the future holds for Chamberlain Park.
    The two communities would be resistant to losing station access, and post-CRL with reduced journey times (and hopefully dwell times also) the increased accessibility would supercede any additional time saved by station consolidation.
    I also think the two communities should be privileged above better train access to St Luke’s mall.

    However, the level crossing issue at Asquith and Rossgrove is a tough problem to crack. With post-CRL frequencies, the crossing barriers are going to be down a lot of the time. The proximity to houses and geometries of the road layout makes any raised vehicle crossing design difficult and impactful.
    Asquith dips down just north of the rail line, so it may be possible to take the road under the tracks by trenching from the south, but the trench portal will be an ugly feature in the residential neighbourhood. For Rossgrove, it may be better to close the crossing and connect with Asquith on the northern side of the tracks by routing parallel to the train line. This would entail multiple property purchases however.

    1. Agree about Morningside; not sure about Baldwin Ave.

      I think the solution for Asquith and Rossgrove needs to be seen in the light of the direction we need to be moving in for all sorts of other reasons.

      Using the Barcelona Superblocks, the UK Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods or any of the similar European schemes intended to radically improve safety, modeshare and to reduce emissions makes the solution really easy.

      The whole block bounded by NNR, Carrington, St Lukes and the motorway should be a superblock / low traffic neighbourhood, in which all pedestrian and cycling connections are enhanced but cars are visitors, using the streets as access in and then out on the same local street, but not as rat runs that go through.

      Cutting those two roads to traffic is a no-brainer if our people and climate-friendly goals are genuine.

      Then the whole corridor should be analysed to find where the best possible locations for providing pedestrian and cycling access would be.

      This is far cheaper than providing grade separation for cars. And far better.

      1. Most traffic on Asquith Ave are just using it as a rat run. Closing the crossing will make the whole area more pleasant for locals, although if they are coming from Avondale by car their journey home is slightly. But swings and roundabouts.

        It would become a quieter backwater like the backstreets of Waterview, or mangere bridge which only has three ways to enter.

  12. I see where you are coming from but I am not sure the super-block concept will easily translate. The issue with this neighbourhood is permeability is limited by the severance of Chamberlain/motorway and the railway line, and only two street junctions with St Lukes’s Rd (Asquith and Linwood). The connections around the perimeter are not balanced like in the Eixample in Barcelona, and tends to focus traffic (of all modes) on a few routes.

    It will be easy to further improve walking and cycling connections (and we should!), but the current arrangement arguably already suppresses rat-running, and some recent engineering works have slowed traffic further. It would be a good neighborhood to trial 30km/h streets with further traffic calming measures.

    However the Rossgrove/Aqsuith/Baldwin junction is an existing bottleneck that if it were removed would likely direct re-routed traffic down Linwood or on to Carrington close to Gladstone School. I’m sure some traffic would disappear through modeshift, but not all. I expect this would be hard to model and may just have to be trialed with a temporary closure to bring the community along as there is certainly risk of blowback. Managing this change is going to be the hard part.

    1. Yes, managing the social aspects is the difficult part. But it has been everywhere. Auckland needs to start on this journey and find its own particular way to develop this concept.

      The more I think about it, this is actually a fantastic place to start. As the UK Low Traffic Neighbourhoods Guidelines state, doing it in parts results in kickback as it doesn’t deliver the benefits; the whole area needs to be tackled at once. And this is an area where there are already so many cut roads, only a few more bollards are needed, and it is in need of re-establishing the connections for active modes that the rail corridor severed anyway.

      By doing the whole block, there is no one road that remains as a ratrun. So Linwood Ave would be cut too, removing that problem.

      As for Carrington Rd, we have the figures for the effect on the arterials around these low traffic neighbourhoods. Although they may rise when one neighbourhood has been established, they drop after the adjacent one is done too. In the specific case of Carrington Rd, it should have had major work done to it at the time of the opening of Waterview. There is no need for it to be considered a high capacity arterial any more as cars should be using Waterview.

      That they will widen Carrington for buses instead of reallocating the existing space cleverly to buses through the use of bus gates is bad. But traffic on the road is not something that could ever be blamed on a low traffic neighbourhood – it’s a result of AT’s designers being unable to tackle the regressives at its core.

  13. I was always disappointed the original Cross Town 5 did not go ahead. The 640 is a better than nothing, but it’s a pretty watered down replacement and its route does seem a bit weird.

    CT5 sliced straight through Mt Eden village to Stokes Road and Epsom, which seems a better “gap filler” in the existing network, although it would have meant a transfer/walk to reach Newmarket. The 640 wandering along Mt Eden Road and Khyber Pass pretty much replicates the train route to Newmarket.

    Also not sure why it gives up at Valley Road, and doesn’t travel the wee bit further to Kingsland station. Or even better to Ponsonby, as originally intended for CT5.

    1. The 640 does seem like a bit of an appeasement for Mt Eden people to still get to Newmarket.
      Real issue is also awful walkability environment and lack of bus stops for transfers at Newton as you could use the Mt Eden Rd bus and transfer to a 30 say.
      I suspect the problem with immediate extension to Kingsland is the right turn out of Walters into Sandringham Rd could without traffic lights there?

  14. For me, the main issue with the outer link was not the route. The main issue is that it is unreliable due to always being bunched up. For example in the mornings, the outer link that I could use to catch to work may come at 6:30am, or 6:50am, or any time in between. It meant that some winter mornings I was waiting 20 minutes in the cold and dark for no particular reason. I don’t know about others here, but for me, it’s actually quite anxiety-inducing to not know exactly when your bus will turn up.

    1. It is unreliable due to the route, your bus is subject to traffic and delays across a huge looping path around half the streets in Auckland. It might be delayed in Mt Albert due to someone trying to parallel park in Parnell, etc etc.

      The main goal of this routing change is to make it more reliable.

    2. Yes, looping buses always have this problem. Routes that have a start & end point without it been a loop have time to recover & wait to keep more to schedule.

      Of course problems of variable traffic without a but having it’s own right of way, too many stops, slow boarding & alighting all add to the bunching.

  15. The picture above has the proposed 65 route crossing the Southern train line and heading off the page towards Remuera Road. The original New Network proposal had it continue down Orakei Road to the station there, then on via Kepa Road to terminate at Glen Innes station. Do we have any idea of what the eastern route and terminus would be in the new proposal?

  16. Great to see this OuterLink & related changes. Will be much better I’m sure. Moving
    the train station a good idea too I think, interesting discussion around that.

    1. The New Network needs to be a network. Retaining the Outer Link duplicated frequent services on some roads at the cost of not providing a frequent east-west service across a large chunk of the Auckland isthmus. Not to acknowledge that is disingenuous.
      The public interest is in improving connectivity for everyone across the whole of Auckland, not in preserving one specific route. The proposed changes will do that. And if this blog is “AT in-house spin” then AT have (thankfully) no idea how to spin!

  17. outerlink is really important as a transport through the center of Auckland. As a student who always goes to the public library and dominion road, outer link is significant for my life in Auckland.

    1. Maybe you can find a place to transfer where you can also complete an errand? I transfer for many of my journeys, and find it an opportunity to get things done, such as dropping off a book at a library or posting a letter at a post box or picking something up from a shop I don’t have locally.

      Change is hard, but it is impossible to provide a bus going from every point to every other point. The routes need to be chosen to help the network function as a whole. The advantages of a reliable outer link and a frequent 65 will benefit many people.

      1. Thank you Heidi. That is a good response.
        I was amazed and very disappointed when the Outer Link was kept at the cost of a frequent service across town east of Manukau Road – especially with all the facilities along Green Lane East which attract so many people. I never did a submission in favour of the frequent bus along there because it seemed so obviously required for the New Network to be an actual Network. I have submitted this time and I hope consideration will be given to those who would gain from this, not just to those who don’t want change from what they already have.

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